Westphal County Home circa 1910.

Westphal County Home circa 1910.

BACK WHEN: Past actions show us nothing is brand new

IT SURE SEEMS like these are troubling times in which we live. Impacts to our lives are coming from every direction. Talking with someone seasoned by time may put things into perspective. Since I have been through some seasons of time, I decided to interview myself:

There seems to be so many things going wrong in our world.

Yes, but we are really only dealing with four Problematic Ps of life; People, Politics, Protests and Pandemic. Death and taxes aren’t the only things certain in life.

How do you deal with all that’s going on?

I recall a really wise person from my Sunday School class. Solomon wrote, “History merely repeats itself. Nothing is truly new; it has all been done or said before. What can you point to that is new? How do you know it didn’t exist long ages ago? We don’t remember what happened in those former times, and in the future generations, no one will remember what we have done back here.”

I have my favorite cereal for breakfast. Periodically the company changes the look of the box and might add the words “New and Improved.” The box looks different, but the cereal is still the same.

Politics today seems rather mean-spirited and adversarial. Is this new?

Politics has always been a drama unfolding before us. Partisan politics is nothing new. I have seen politics cycle through division and unity. If a politician is too bipartisan, people complain that they are sacrificing their values. If they hold firmly to their values, people complain they are rigid and mean.

Port Angeles’ founder, Victor Smith, was a notable example. All of Victor’s actions were filled with bombast, bluster and bluff. He had a talent for alienating people. Someone described him as being “deft, to a notable degree, in the gentle art of making enemies.” Smith was instrumental getting the Custom’s House moved from Port Townsend to Port Angeles, which was an enormous benefit to Port Angeles. Regardless, people couldn’t ignore that he was making money speculating on land in Port Angeles and profited by the move.

In July 1896, a short newspaper article stated that “Republicans have got no further in the ‘campaign of education’ than to call the Democrats anarchists, repudiationists, and crazy lunatics.”

Yup, there is nothing new under the sun.

So many people seem disturbed by the protests occurring throughout the nation. What is happening?

Protests are nothing new. They may have different flavors, but they are rooted against some form of a perceived injustice. Protests range from community frustration to a nationwide upheaval preceding societal changes.

Clallam County has had its share of protests throughout its history. In the early 1900s the Women’s Christian Temperance League mobilized throughout the county, attacking the ills surrounding “John Barleycorn” (liquor). Their efforts resulted in a county-wide vote to determine if we would be “wet” or “dry.” Oh, the mental anguish suffered by saloon keepers. Clallam County stayed “wet.”

We have protested many issues. We protested the Vietnam War, spotted owls, oil drill rigs, the Trans Mountain Pipeline, racism, removal of trees from Lincoln Park and automatic meter reading. We’ve protested with banners, signs, kayaks, motorcycles and log trucks.

Yup, there is nothing new under the sun.

This current pandemic is hitting the world and our community hard. We’ve never experienced this before, have we?

Pandemics and epidemics come around periodically. This is not new.

By the late 1700s, contact with explorers and traders devastated the Makah Nation. Thousands of their members died from smallpox, tuberculosis, flu and whooping cough epidemics.

In 1901, a smallpox epidemic hit the nation. In 1902, the city health officer ordered vaccinations for everyone in town to prevent a local outbreak of this dreaded and often-fatal disease. The City Council banned all public meetings and ordered saloon crowds to be forcibly dispersed. The Post Office was closed. All suspicious illnesses were to be reported to the city health officer under the threat of fines or imprisonment.

In 1904, the Westphal County Home on Mount Angeles Road was built to serve as a place for patients with contagious diseases.

By 1918, a grim Spanish Flu (H1N1) pandemic surged throughout the world. It may have infected 500 million people worldwide. Deaths have been estimated at 50 million worldwide and 675,000 in the United States. Port Angeles was not immune from it. Starting in October 1918, the disease swept through our community. We were in near panic.

In one 48-hour period, almost 40 cases were diagnosed. The mayor and health officer ordered flu masks for all those traveling in public. Then they closed schools, theaters, churches and indoor meeting places.

More recently, we have taken measures to prevent the spread of Ebola, SARS and measles.

Yup, there is nothing new under the sun.

We are required to wear face masks during this pandemic. Some people believe the government has overstepped its authority and fear the loss of rights and liberty.

Haven’t we all heard this before?

In 1968, the federal government enacted the Motor Safety Standard requiring all vehicles, except buses, to be fitted with seat belts. Many people said, “It’s about time!” Others responded with a deafening outcry, accusing the government of overstepping its authority and implementing social engineering. They accused the government of being George Orwell’s “Big Brother” from his book, “1984.”

“They won’t help.”

“I don’t like to wear them.”

“I’m responsible for my own actions.”

It has been the same thing for other laws. Yet, through every health emergency, we have come through with our rights and liberties intact.

Yup, there is nothing new under the sun.

Some people say that the masks don’t work at all. What do you think?

To believe that, I would have to throw away centuries of medical history and research. Besides, it’s a belief I couldn’t truly live.

If I truly believed masks don’t work at all, I would insist my doctors and nurses not wear them the next time I’m in the hospital for surgery.

Solomon was right.

“We don’t remember what happened in those former times, and in the future generations, no one will remember what we have done back here.”

Yup, there is nothing new under the sun.


John McNutt is a descendant of Clallam County pioneers and treasurer of the North Olympic History Center Board of Directors. He can be reached at [email protected].

John’s Clallam history column appears the first Sunday of every month.

Flu precautions poster from the National Archives circa 1920.

Flu precautions poster from the National Archives circa 1920.

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